What is flexible-by-default?

Flexible-by-default means shifting from asking “Why should a role be flexible?” to “Why not?”. It means treating all roles as suitable for flexible working and exploring how flexibility could work, unless there is a genuine business reason for any role not to be flexible. It provides an opportunity to consider a range of working arrangements that work for the agency, team and employee.

It does not mean that all types of flexibility will be possible for every role. Different types of flexibility may suit different types of roles. For example, the demands of frontline roles may preclude an employee working from home (one type of flexibility), but other types of flexibility (e.g. varied start and finish times) may be workable.

Flexible working is varied and means more than working part time or working remotely. It also includes flexible hours and/or days, flexible leave arrangements, job sharing, working compressed week

or fortnight hours, having a phased return to work or phased retirement. A lot of forms are already common, especially informal arrangements, like earlier or later start and finish times. Where flexible working is already common, making the shift to a flexible-by-default approach will be an evolution rather than a revolution.

Agencies that are in a strong position to get the best from flexible-by-default have:

  • a clear focus on delivering services and achieving outcomes
  • a strong agency and team culture
  • a culture of engagement and open dialogue between the agency, employees and unions
  • clarity about the types of flexibility that will and won’t be workable in different types of roles
  • leaders who actively role model working

Why have a flexible-by-default approach?

A flexible-by-default approach seeks to normalise flexible working so that it does not undermine career progression or pay and is equally available to all regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability and other dimensions of diversity. Shifting to a flexible-by-default approach will help agencies to:

Implementing flexible-by-default

The following diagram outlines the principles which underpin a flexible-by-default approach and the process which agencies should work through to embed flexible-by-default in their agency.

Diagram - HTML: Principles which Underpin a Flexible-by-Default-Approach

The diagram sets out the six Flexible-by-default Principles which underpin this guidance and the attached resources:

If not, why not?

All roles are treated as flexible unless there is a genuine business reason for a role not to be.

Flexibility is equally available to women, men and gender-diverse employees, irrespective of the reason for wanting it. Working flexibly does not undermine career progression or pay.

Works for the role

Every role should be suitable for some form of flexibility but not every type of flexibility will work for every role. Genuine business reasons may mean that some types of flexibility cannot be implemented for some roles.

Works for agencies and teams

Flexible working should not be viewed as something which is just agreed between an employee and manager. This means that the impact of flexible arrangements should be considered on teams, and the agency as a whole.

Requires give and take

Flexibility requires give and take between the employee, manager and team. It also places collective obligations on

employees, managers and teams to be open and adaptable so that it works for everyone.

Mutually beneficial

Flexible working needs to work for the agency, teams and employees. Consideration should be given to how flexible work arrangements can maintain or enhance service delivery and the performance of agencies, teams and employees. It should not result in increased workloads for employees working flexibly, or for other team members who are not.

Actively championed by leaders

Leaders support, champion and role model flexible working for their teams and themselves.

These Principles sit around the 4 key stages of implementing flexible-by-default:

Stage 1: Engage and Analyse

where are we now and where do we want to be?

  • Assess current state

Stage 2: Design

How do we get there?

  • Develop a vision and goals
  • Develop an implementation plan

Stage 3: Implement

How do we start, or keep, moving?

  • Communication
  • Engagement
  • Build culture and capability
  • Develop policies, processes and systems

Stage 4: Review

Where are we travelling?

  • Monitor progress


These four key stages are iterative and require action in between each stage.

The centre of the diagram depicts the outcome of working through the key stages:

Outcome: flexible-by-default embeded

Flexibility is strategic in mindsets, systems and culture. Flexible working is normalized and equitably accessible.